Friday, January 31, 2014

Clam Chowdah

Caution: my Maine roots may have subtly influenced the following post.

Clam Chowder is one of the easiest and most satisfying soups to make on a cold night. A couple of potatoes, a bit of onion, a can of clams, milk or something like it, and a few crumbled strips of bacon - shoot, you can make this stuff in a microwave if necessary.   

Chowder certainly didn't originate in the New World; fish chowders have been served in seaside villages since the invention of dirt. But the addition of clams in the early 19th century seems to have occurred first in New England, where clams accounted for a large portion of protein in the diets of coastal Native Americans.

So, New England created clam chowder. Making a clam soup with tomatoes goes against everything right and natural. Don't do it, people. It's bad mojo.

In fact, there are rules that must be followed. Cardinal rules. Rules that must not be broken, lest you perpetuate the lie that a decent clam chowder resembles that wallpaper paste-ish, rubbery clam junk dished out to tourists who don't know any better.

Real Clam Chowder Rule #1. Do not thicken. You're making soup, not gravy.

Real Clam Chowder Rule #2. Use the clam juice to cook the potatoes and flavor the broth, but don't add the clams until the soup is done and you're ready to serve. Cooking the clams makes them tough as shoe leather. This is assuming, of course, that you're making the easy peasy canned clam version - if you're using live clams, the cooking rules are completely different. Use the Google machine.

Real Clam Chowder Rule #3. Don't thicken the soup. Doing so turns a wonderfully tasty, satisfying dish into glop. If you want that, buy canned.
Real Clam Chowder Rule #4. A salty bit of pork is essential. Ideally, you should use salt pork, but bacon will do. A sprinkle of minced salt pork fried into tiny golden brown cracklings or crispy chopped bacon bits over the top adds clam cred and screams AUTHENTIC!

Real Clam Chowder Rule #5. Thickening is not needed. The potatoes should be simmered until they practically fall apart on your tongue. Giving the chowder a brief, brisk stir after removing it from the heat and adding the clams will thicken it perfectly.

If there is a single tenet to making real Clam Chowder, then it is indeed a conviction: the chowder must never be thickened. Save the flour to make a batch of cheesy biscuits and add to the flavor party.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Car on Rock

It was barely raining. How do people DO this stuff?

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Thoreau, New Mexico

Sitting in Houston, watching it snow and sleet and wondering what the hell happened to the annual January Thaw?

The slow freight has given me a chance to go through pics from last year and, not surprisingly, those that feature sunshine and fair weather are quite attractive today.

While on a load to California about a year ago, we suddenly realized we'd forgotten a paperwork deadline with our carrier. Hoss took the next exit, parked the truck in a dusty, empty lot in front of a long abandoned building, and started preparing BOLs and fuel receipts for Transflo. I grabbed my camera and went exploring. According to a sign on the building, we were in Thoreau, New Mexico...

As seen from I-40, there is nothing else in Thoreau, New Mexico except a repair shop several hundred yards west of where we're parked (don't think so? check the Sat pic)...

The last time this venue was open, coffee cost twenty-five cents and the pizza was fresh...

And the Red Mtn Market & Deli might have served up a mean balogna sandwich...

At one time, Johnnie's Inn did offer ice - always a nice touch in the high desert at more than 7,000 feet above sea level and only a few miles from the Continental Divide...

But, dagnabbit, this building was currently empty ... completely bereft of life...

Or was it? On the door of Johnnie's was a recently written note...

But there were no cars or any sign of life at all. I peeked in the windows and didn't see anything that led me to believe Johnnie's was a living breathing business. I turned away and went back to taking pics. 

Just a few minutes later, an old green pickup pulled in and parked in front of Johnnie's. The gentleman inside rolled his window down and sat quietly, smoking.

Had we been spotted by a local and Johnnie had dropped by to make sure we weren't going to steal his Coors sign? 

Then another pickup turned in and parked. An older couple sat inside and chatted.


I walked around the corner of the building and took a few more pics. Two more pickups showed up.

I went back to our truck and climbed up into the cab, where I could watch the goings-on without being too obvious. 

At precisely 4 pm, a dusty old sedan parked at the end of the lot, and a spry old man emerged. He smiled widely, waved at the truck occupants, and unlocked the door. The others got out of their vehicles and followed him inside, chatting and laughing with each other.

Johnnie's Inn was open for business.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Looooong Load

Spotted as we stopped in Las Cruces before Christmas, two of these beasts were lined up on the side road between the TA and the Pilot. They were making the corner toward I-10 as we left the TA. 

Seeing the coordination of effort and communication between the team members really makes you appreciate the pre-planning and professionalism of those involved. Several members stopped traffic while the tractor began the turn, and then carefully monitored clearance. A team member with two additional spotters walked behind the rig and remotely turned the three rear axles so the turn could be made. After about 10 minutes, they were clear and parked at the side of the road to gather together and plan the next turn, onto I-10. It really was fascinating.

No idea what these massive things are, though? Can anyone ID them?

Sunday, January 26, 2014

A Bleak Week

In terms of jobs, anyway.

This week, we've had calls from agents and we've bid on loads, but none were booked with us. On Wednesday, we drove from San Antonio to Dallas to better position ourselves for a load - or so we thought. Texas is crammed with expedite trucks right now, all vying to get back into busier freight lanes. All carriers seem to be affected. And this is the slowest freight time of the year, to boot. We called a mentor or two and all agree that we're doing all we should be doing to market ourselves and attract loads - there just aren't enough at a decent rate to go around right now.

Fortunately, we have few bills and savings that will tide us over. And frankly, if we've got to be stuck somewhere in a slump, I'm glad we're in warmish Texas instead of smack dab in that polar vortex nonsense. Our Adventure in Omaha three weeks ago was enough winter for me this year.

So what have we been doing? Well, obviously not blogging.

We have renewed our quest for smarter and healthier food choices, and I've used this week's spare time to play with a few recipes. We're back on breakfast egg bowls again. They're easy to make, a fast cook, low in calories, and the varieties are endless (Greek: fresh spinach, grape tomatoes, black olives, feta; Pizza: turkey pepperoni, low-fat mozzarella, pizza sauce; Denver: lean ham, low-fat cheddar, diced onions and peppers). I've also been perfecting a very satisfying, spicy Thai-inspired chicken & veggie soup - start with fresh veggies that appeal to you, add light coconut milk to the soup base and ramp up the heat with some jalapenos. Here's my first version to get you started:

2 raw chicken breasts, diced
1 T. soy sauce
Juice of 1 key lime (or 1/2 regular lime)

1 T. olive oil
1 1/2 T. chopped garlic

1 head cauliflower, cut into small florets
1/2 lb baby bellas, chopped
5 oz matchstick carrots

1 can light coconut milk
1 cup 1% milk

2 jalepenos, diced

Marinate chicken in soy and lime for about an hour. Saute chicken in olive oil with garlic until just pink. Add 1/2 cup of water and cauliflower, cover and steam until cauliflower is al dente. Add remaining ingredients, simmer until carrots are tender.

This recipe makes about 8 cups of soup.

For the second batch, I added 3/4 pound of fresh green beans, a can of black beans, and I doubled the jalapenos. Both batches were delicious.

On a related note, we've discovered jicama. That stuff is delicious - crispy/crunchy, slightly sweet, and it's a perfect dipper for low-cal Greek Yogurt Dips.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Snow In Buffalo

Here's the view from my office building in downtown Buffalo after I leave work!'s terrifying and cold! I want it to be Spring.


Sunday, January 19, 2014

San Antone

Two days of queries but no offers. We decided on Friday afternoon, after a few phone calls and oracle consultations, that a move to San Antonio would put us in a better spot for freight. We had just left El Paso when a call came offering a run, oddly enough, from El Paso to San Antonio. Our planned drive would now be paid rather than funded via our own pockets. Nice!

Would we have scored a job sooner in El Paso with our previous carrier? Hard to say, but if one had come through, it likely would have been below our contracted rate, or, our acceptance percentage would have taken a ding if we'd turned it down for low miles or lousy destination.

The load didn't deliver until late Monday afternoon, but a call to the consignee confirmed they could accept the freight on Saturday; we wouldn't have to sit on the load all weekend. The short 550 mile drive to San Antonio was leisurely and included a full night's sleep in a non-moving truck. The delivery went perfectly.

The weather has been sunny and warm, and so much more pleasant than two weeks ago. Yet this morning I woke up with incessant sneezing and a crazily watery nose. Allergies? Really? It's not birch pollen season up north, so what's got my histamines all amped up?

Turns out, it's Mountain Cedar. It's reported that a full 90% of people who have allergies are also allergic to Mountain Cedar. Luckily, it has a short season and a small distribution area that's limited to the central interior of Texas.

Note to self - plan to spend future Januarys in Arizona or New Mexico.

And stock up on allergy meds just in case.

Saturday, January 18, 2014


inb4 the mothership becomes a storm chaser in her Truck Of Heroism and sells this picture to Etsy:

by the way, i'm pretty sure this was photoshopped.
wait, can you photoshop submissions to Etsy?

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

One is Done

We delivered our first load for Landstar this morning in El Paso.

Changing carriers means new procedures, new terminology and new forms, new dates to remember, new phone numbers to manage - new just about everything. There's always a learning curve, and try as you might to remember everything covered in orientation, you can't and you won't. Each step of this first load required reviewing our notes or even a phone call to Operations, but having changed carriers a couple of times in the past, we know it will come naturally in just another load or two.

We then drove to the Petro for breakfast and a shower. Hoss spent the afternoon familiarizing himself with the Landstar web sites, settlement paperwork procedures, and the rest of the carrier specific things we hadn't had time to delve into before getting our first job in Rockford. I cleaned the floors of the sleeper and cab (salt makes a helluva mess), then cooked up several chicken breasts I had on hand to use in salads.

The weather here is sunny with a light breeze, and 60 degrees. It feels almost tropical.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014


On our first load with the new company, a long drive from Wisconsin to a secret town on the border... I'll update when we finish the load. The drive takes us through the panhandles of Oklahoma and Texas, home to some of the most beautiful sunsets anywhere.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Rockford, IL

All those who remember The Rockford Files, raise your hand. Loved that show!

At any rate, here we are in Rockford, Illinois, since late Tuesday and through at least Monday morning.

Did you know .... had you any idea .... that Rockford, Illinois is the home of the Sock Monkey?

Day Two

Or, How to Be Successful at Landstar.

While the first day was centered on safety, this second day was all about running and growing a successful business with Landstar. All carriers will talk about your cost per mile, but Landstar helps you determine what your break-even cost per mile figure is. All expedite carriers will give you various formulas for doing it yourself, but here they walk through it with you. It seems rudimentary - you can't know you're profitable unless you know at what point you reach profitability. At Landstar, everyone leaves orientation knowing exactly what that figure is. In addition, you're coached on how to market your business. This company realizes that ensuring you succeed means that they succeed.

They also offer numerous tools for finding loads that we've never had before, and they really do focus on their contractors' security and comfort.

It takes a lot to impress cynical old me.

This is a good move for us.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Day One

Today was our first day of orientation with our new carrier. Clearly, this company sees its contractors differently than the others we've worked with before. It's evident in the way they interact with us, and in the way they talk about their fleet. This is going to be a very good move for us.
Today, we took the truck to a signage company not too far from the orientation center to have the decals replaced with the new logo. The sign company is run from a working farm, complete with beef cows, sheep, a herd of barn cats, and two enormous dogs. The smallest of the two is a full grown St. Bernard; the other, a gigantic Newfoundland. I've never seen such a huge, happy, slobbery loveball before.
Class today was all about safety, and the attitude about even that is refreshingly different here.
In addition to putting us up in a hotel while we're here, they also provide lunch. Today it was ziti and meatballs, salad, bread, and brownies. Nice!
Tomorrow we'll learn how to maximize our earning potential within their operating structure - it's unique among large expediting companies, and one Hoss and I are well suited for, I think.

Monday, January 6, 2014

A Fretta at the Gardenview Diner

There are a lot of diner options in the Syracuse area. One that we've driven by a thousand times but never tried is the Gardenview Diner.

Well, that's our loss. The Gardenview serves up an outstanding Fretta. Pictured above is their half order, served with melted mozzarella.

A Fretta is a regional dish. There are Frittatas from coast to coast, and occasionally we'll run into a restaurant that serves up a Super Scramble or Cowboy Hash, or some other variation. But a real New York Fretta always includes Italian flavors: pepperoni, sausage, onions, peppers, and is frequently served with marinara and cheese.

I've always wondered why two similar dishes with similar names needed differentiation. You say Fretta, I say Frittata? Nope, they really are two distinct dishes, both in preparation and presentation. A Frittata is a dish of eggs and desired additions that are mixed raw, then left untouched while very slowly cooked until set. The result is a crustless quiche, really. A Fretta, on the other hand, is assembled as it's being cooked, and it's cooked much more quickly. The term "fretta", in fact, is Italian for "hurry" or "haste" - a dish well suited for diner fare.

The Gardenview's menu lists this dish as a Frittata, but with all due respect to the owners, it's a Fretta.

And one of the best Hoss has ever had.  

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Under the Coffee Pot

Still in Omaha, at the truck stop that features the world's largest coffee pot:

We had a few hours of sun today, but it remains bitterly cold and gusty. 

The water lines are frozen. We've opened cabinet doors and drawers to try to thaw them, but without success.

We're using our little ceramic heater to stay warm, and it's keeping up pretty well. We've hung a sheet between the sleeper and the cab to function as an air barrier. It's astonishing how much cold transfers into the cab through all that glass up there - the interior of the windows and windshield were thoroughly coated with a thick layer of frost this morning.

The truck didn't want to start this morning. After cranking for what seemed like forever, she finally caught. We left her in a high idle while we went inside for breakfast, and the frost had melted by the time we came back out. The brakes were frozen, too; Hoss had to rock the truck using the accelerator until they finally let go. Once everything was working normally, we shut down the diesel and went back on electric power.

We're in service and waiting for a job. This is a one-a-day board, meaning it averages only one outbound load a day, so we didn't expect to be dispatched out today.  We'll see what tomorrow brings. If a job isn't forthcoming, we may move on our own dime.

It may sound miserable, but we're warm, we have satellite TV and internet, and plenty of soups and water for tea and cocoa. Later, we'll crank up the heated mattress pad and snuggle while we watch a movie. And the cat will be right smack in the middle.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Christmas Pictures Wrap Up

A few Xmas pics straggled in over the past week and a half.
A waitress at the Petro in Waterloo, NY created this enormous gingerbread house display. She was quite creative - there are lots of good ideas here (click on the pics to enlarge):

The Christmas Eve cooking event aftermath:

And finally, the saddest, most joyless Christmas tree I've ever seen (makes me want to found a charity for underdressed trees):

Hope yours was as wonderful as ours. :)

Fixing It

Cousin Eddie's little brother arrived with a polite attitude and a level of optimism that turned out to be premature. No, you can't hook the liftgate and tow us, too dicey. No, you can't hook the arse-end frame, either. You need to get under that truck, lie on the frozen Iowa tundra, and drop that driveshaft. Save your charm for all those insanely frigid underbelly parts that are well marinated in several gallons of taffy-like engine oil and convince them that they should slip and twirl for you like a Fantasia hippo in a tutu. Good luck.

It wasn't long before we heard several F-bombs and a number unintelligible exclamations from under the truck. Poor guy - I really did feel sorry for him. The wind chill was almost twenty below. After 20 minutes or so, the truck was hooked to the wrecker and we were on our way to the nearest Freightliner dealer in Omaha, the little brother's attitude none the worse for wear. I spent most of the trip trying to feel life in my toes and deciphering a very perplexing control panel in the wrecker:

Although Omaha's OTR truck center is open 24 hours, we opted to take it to their business class center two blocks away and wait for them to open at 7am. With the truck engine out of play, our only option for heat was the generator. Unfortunately, we needed regular gasoline for it, and the nearest gas station was 1/4 mile away. When you're gazing at a gas sign a quarter mile away and the temp is below zero, it might as well be on the moon. Little Brother offered to drop us off at the gas station, but couldn't spare the time to bring us back. I think it was his way of sharing the Arctic love with us. 

I've never seen Hoss walk so fast in my life. Even with a bum knee and 30 pounds of gasoline in his hand, I had to hustle to keep up. We got the generator up and running, then buttoned up the truck. The temp inside had dropped to 37 degrees in just the time it took to drive to Omaha and fetch gas. The rooftop HVAC puts out a pathetic amount of heat for the electricity it consumes, so we usually rely on a portable ceramic heater that keeps us more than toasty. In addition to the ceramic, we cranked the mattress pad heater to the max. Finally, we were warming up. We had 3 1/2 hours to sleep until the shop opened at 7; our carrier called three times in those precious few hours to discuss freight delivery. I barely heard Hoss's voice, let alone the phone ringing. He got very little sleep.

We were 50 minutes away from the consignee and the freight was light - several boxes of office furniture that weighed only 700 pounds in total. We were the only truck for hundreds of miles, so meeting up with a rescue truck was unlikely. Our carrier wanted to have our truck and the freight towed to Lincoln - the SOP for this type of circumstance. Instead, Hoss made the arrangements to rent a small truck so he and I could transfer the load there at the truck dealership, then continue with the delivery. We had to jump through a few hoops with the Safety department before we could proceed, but it went well and we saved the crazy expensive fee for towing a truck to Lincoln and back.

We ran some errands, then went back to the dealership to pick up our truck. It turns out that the PCV vent had frozen shut and the oil pressure subsequently blew the dipstick past the friction seal point. Oil then proceeded to gush out and upward, showering everything under the hood on the driver's side with oil, and as we cruised across I-80, coated the entire underside of the truck - all places where oil doesn't help move the freight down the road.

It was an inexpensive fix. After three baths, the truck is now right as rain and just as clean. We're back in service, warm, well-rested, and waiting for the next load. 

Friday, January 3, 2014

Rescued, Warm, Ready for Sleep

We were towed to Omaha, the freight got delivered in Lincoln, we ran errands with a rental, then picked up the fixed truck. We three are tired, but warm, fed, and ready for a long warm sleep. I'll write more tomorrow. Stay warm, everybody!

Now It's Two Below

All I want is a warm bed and a 10 hour nap.

Wishing It Would Snow

Ironically, a year and a half ago, we were hauling a load out of Laredo when the a/c quit. The weather was, of course, set on Hellandahalf, and the Pete we were driving at the time threw heat at the cab like it was hungry and we were marshmallows. The temp in the cab hit 121 degrees. It was so uncomfortable that the cat just lay there as i repeatedly soaked her with cool water so she wouldn't overheat.
...still waiting for the towtruck...

Waiting for a Tow

Oil pressure: zero
Temperature: zero